By Zack Hill
Boone Police are asking the public for help in finding a “person of interest” they believe may be tied to an incident at The Temple of the High Country last week.
Last Wednesday around 7:30 p.m., Boone Police responded to reports of a person waving a flag with a swastika on it in front of The Temple of the High Country at 1043 West King Street. When they arrived, they didn’t find a person but did find the flag draped across the Temple’s sign.
Police posted photo’s to the department’s Facebook page taken at the Kangaroo gas station at 1222 West King Street near the Temple. The images show what appears to be a man wearing camouflage pants, a tan shirt, black jacket, black beanie and a black mask at the entrance of the store.
Another picture released shows a silver SUV parked outside of the gas station. The dark and grainy image makes it difficult to assess the make or model of the vehicle and those specifics have not been released by police.
Sergeant Dennis O’Neal of the Boone Police Department told High Country Press that Police Chief Andy Le Beau has been in contact with the Temple of the High Country multiple times since the incident.
“Our chief has spoken to the clergy there,” O’Neal said. “We enjoy our relationship there and have provided overtime security detail in the past. We very much appreciate them and we really enjoy a good relationship with them.”
Chief Le Beau previously told the Watauga Democrat that the police would be increasing patrols near the Temple.
He also told the Democrat: “I’m just sorry this happened in our community. I’m sorry that people feel this way that they want to make our neighbors feel uncomfortable. We want to do what we can to reassure them that we’re doing our job and looking into it and we want to get to the bottom of it and find out who this is and make sure there’s no bigger plot that’s going on.”
When asked about the process for classifying the incident as a hate crime, O’Neal said that a hate crime, defined on both the federal and state level, comes down to motive which would have to be determined later into the investigation process.
O’Neal also said he was not aware of any recent, additional incidents in the area similar to the person waving and placing the flag at the Temple of the High Country.
A 2022 report from the Anti-Defamation League found North Carolina saw a 131 percent increase in reported antisemitic incidents during 2021 saying “there was a substantial increase.” The 2023 report is not yet available.
“We are deeply troubled by the stark increase in antisemitic incidents reported in North Carolina,” said Meredith R. Wiesel, Regional Director for the portion of the country that includes North Carolina.
“It is particularly disturbing that we saw such an extreme uptick in antisemitic vandalism,” Wiesel went on to state. “We must work together to disrupt this upward trend and combat the spread of hate and bigotry across North Carolina.”
The Boone Police Department is asking that anyone with information regarding this incident or of the identity of those involved, is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (828) 268-6959 / (828) 737-0125 or the Boone Police Department at 828-268-6900. You may also submit a Crime Stoppers Tip via our website at tipsubmit.com/webtips.aspx?AgencyID=1251. All information will be kept confidential.
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